PULLMAN – Dwight Tardy denies it, but Saturday’s game in the Los Angeles Coliseum surely holds special significance.
It will be the final time Tardy, a senior, has the chance to play in front of friends and family near his home in Walnut.
It will be the final time Tardy gets to show the skills in Southern California that took him from St. Paul High to the Pac-10.
And it will be the final time he has a chance to upset USC.
“Those guys are kind of arrogant,” said Tardy, who played against many of the Trojans in high school. “But when you win so many games, I guess in this day and age, you can walk around like that.”
Last year, the Trojans walked all over WSU, winning 69-0, snapping the Cougars’ 280-game scoring streak and running their series record to 56-8-4.
“Last year I definitely felt some players laid down,” Tardy said. “You know, one bad apple spoils the whole bunch. If you’ve got one guy talking about ‘Here we go again,’ it gets in other people’s heads.
“It was just like a disease. Airborne. Killed our whole morale of the team. But this year, we’re not like that. We’re fighters. We’re going to fight every second on the clock.”
For the final time, that will be the Coliseum’s clock, and against one of the best teams in the nation, despite the 12th-ranked Trojans’ upset loss to Washington last week.
“They’re a great team, but (last year) definitely left a bad taste in my mouth,” Tardy said. “We’re going to go out there and give it our all. We’ve got a good scheme for them this week. Hopefully, we can pull some things off.”
To pull off an upset as 45-point underdogs, Tardy will have to play a major role.
WSU’s leading rusher this season, junior James Montgomery, took a blow to his calf last week, suffered acute compartment syndrome and had emergency surgery Sunday. He’s out for the season and his football career is threatened.
“It’s a bad deal,” Tardy said. “Losing a leader like that definitely hurts our team. Hopefully, we’ve got some guys who can step up.”
Besides Tardy, the Cougars are counting on sophomore Logwone Mitz, who missed two days of practice but is expected to play, to carry the load against USC’s rushing defense, tops in the Pac-10. But it will be Tardy who will start.
“I do,” Tardy answered when he was asked if he felt more pressure. “I’m going to get more carries and I’m not going to get that breather I could use. Not really too much pressure, but I’ve got to know I’m going to get the ball more and I’m going to have to carry the team on my shoulders a little more.”
That’s what the 5-foot-11, 204-pound Tardy has been doing since he redshirted in 2005. He’s led WSU in rushing the past three years – he has a chance to be the first Cougar to do it for four – and, though he’s never eclipsed 1,000 yards in a single season, he’s ninth all time in rushing yards (1,941) and eighth in carries (449).
Yet, during his time playing in Pullman, WSU has won only once in Los Angeles County (37-15 over UCLA in 2006). The final chance comes Saturday.